Location: Village Green, Woodcote, Oxfordshire, UK
Date: 8th June 2020
Time: 09:01 – 09:16
Weather: Sunny patches light cloud with a gentle breeze
Average Sound Level: 46.6dBSPL (LAeq)
Aligning and calibrating the sound meter, I stroll to the bench, stopping briefly to say hello to mums I know from the school run. The sounds of young children and their carers have returned with some force today, enlivening the air with chatter, squeals of laughter and the occasional cry of pain. Like the library, pubs, community centre and churches, the schools bring the community together, reinstating routines and regularity that structure the soundscape and encourage the conversations that connect us with neighbours. In a similar way, sitting on this park bench at the same time every morning surrounded by recording paraphernalia has provided a consistency and conspicuousness that facilitates conversation. Dog walkers understand this. The connections that bind community seem to be built upon this sharing and structuring of time and space.
With the school run over, I am left to ponder the contrast of this structured connection with my experience of listening to online communities, notably on social media, where I carefully maintain relations with two distinct pools of people. There are those that currently shout “Ginger Lives Matter”, share sounds of violence, looting, rioting, alongside speeches listing the past criminal acts of George Floyd. Then, there are those that depict Nigel Farage sobbing at the fall of Edward Colston’s statue, placards screaming ‘White Silence is Compliance’ and endless soundscapes of chants and peaceful protest. Neither seem aware of the others existence and when they occasionally do meet, angry exchanges hammered out on keyboards, have them retreating to recuperate amidst the familiar voices of like minds. As such, social distancing has been developing apace for many years now, nurtured by preferences and algorithms. The voices listened to online are largely our ‘heavy rotation’ playlist, personalised, portable and available to stream at almost any time we choose. In contrast, the public playlist provided by the soundscape of the village green, is on shuffle, added to by others, available only at given times to experience together with those who share the space with us.
Hearing faint, awkward footsteps in my headphones, my train of thought is broken. I look up to see a friend, wide grin, tiptoeing past the microphones in jest.